There was plenty of scoreboard watching going on throughout the early window of NFL games yesterday, as the Houston Texans were rooting for the nearly impossible to happen, a Week 17 loss by the Kansas City Chiefs at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. A Chiefs loss would have kept a bump up from the 4-seed to the 3-seed in the AFC playoffs in play for the Texans, but alas, the Chiefs were able to close the deal, and climb all the way to the 2-seed in the process (more on that in a minute).
And so it was, with the Texans firmly embedded as the 4-seed in the AFC, that Bill O'Brien chose to rest the dozen or so most important Houston Texans, including quarterback Deshaun Watson, and live to fight for next weekend's wild card round game against the Buffalo Bills. The Titans won the game, and thus clinched the final AFC wild card spot, and a trip to New England. Texan fans got a fairly stress free Sunday, and way, way more of A.J. McCarron than they ever care to see again.
Let's hit some winners and losers from the final weekend of regular season games for 2019. (Where did the time go?)
4. Bryan Anger
Last season, in a mild surprise, the Texans decided to hang onto rookie punter Trevor Daniel, and thus end the career of future Hall of Famer, Shane Lechler. When that happened, it was widely assumed that Daniel would be the punter for the Texans for the next ten years. However, as good as Daniel could look at times, he was typically good for one stinker punt each game. So the team brought in former third round pick Bryan Anger to compete with Daniel in camp, and Anger not only won the job, but has been nothing short of sensational in flipping field position all year long. The Texans rewarded Anger on Saturday with a three-year, $7.5 million contract extension, locking down a key cog of a top-five-in-the-league group of special teams units.
3. Whitney Mercilus
The contract extensions did not stop there, though! In a move foreshadowed by rare, effusive, big picture praise for a player in a postgame press conference from Bill O'Brien following last weekend's win over Tampa Bay, the Texans gave outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus a monster deal that should make him a Texan for the balance of his career, or at least the next couple seasons, whichever comes first:
Texans have struck a four-year contract extension with veteran outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, according to a league source. Mercilus' four-year, $26 million deal was set to expire after this season. Now, he avoids free agency. Bill O'Brien said he wanted to re-sign him— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) December 28, 2019
The deal is four years, $54 million, with $24.5 million guaranteed, Mercilus has to feel great about this deal, considering how misused he was in 2018. Mercilus is one of those "fabric guys" that O'Brien loves so much, and from the player's end of things, Mercilus' entire on-field and off-field career are very intertwined. Good deal for both sides, and now D.J. Reader sits atop the free-agents-to-be that must be taken care of.
2. Texans first drive!
Amen, hallelujah, I can stop tweeting about the Texans failing to score a touchdown on their opening drive, for the immortal A.J. McCarron was able to slice and dice his way through the Titans' defense, with DeAndre Carter as his marquee wide receiver, with a 15-play, 75-yard gem of a drive, eating up 7:35 on the clock, and giving the Texans a 7-0 lead that they would inevitably relinquish, but... WHO CARES?! THE TEXANS SCORED ON AN OPENING DRIVE! Now, it would be nice if the drive were led by Deshaun Watson, but I digress. Hey, maybe O'Brien can go outside the box and use McCarron as an "opener," like MLB teams do with one-inning starting pitchers, and then hand the reins to Watson for the rest of the game! (I'm kidding. Maybe.)
1. A.J. Brown
The Titans are a very talented 9-7 team. In fact, it's almost unfair to label THIS group, when Ryan Tannehill is the starting QB, as a "9-7 team." The Titans were 7-3 with Tannehill under center, and the biggest takeaway from this season, and in particular the two games between these two teams, is that rookie WR A.J. Brown is going to be a PROBLEM, for a long, long time. On Sunday, Brown had four catches for 124 yards, and the two biggest plays in the passing game of the afternoon, a 51-yard catch and run for the first TD of the game, and a 47-yard circus catch to set up the Derrick Henry's 1-yard TD run to make it 28-14.
4. Johnathan Joseph's hamstring
It's been a rough year for Johnathan Jospeh, as the seemingly ageless cornerback has, well, started to show his age. On Sunday, he left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury and did not return, making it a distinct possibility that this will be the last we see of Johnathan Joseph. If indeed that is the case, and this probably deserves its own post, Joseph's legacy will be the greatest cornerback in team history, the best free agency signing in team history, and (in my opinion) the next Texan to gain entry into the Texans' Ring of Honor.
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3. "Eight team playoff" college football fans
We interrupt this NFL-heavy post to touch on the College Football Playoff semifinal games from Saturday, a blowout 63-28 win by LSU over Oklahoma, and a close thriller in Clemson's 29-23 win over Ohio State — the big loser in these two games was "We need an eight team playoff!" Guy. First off, there's been almost zero clamoring for it during the season because the Group of Five schools have been kind enough to give us zero undefeated teams. On Saturday, Oklahoma's no-show reinforced the top heavy nature of this season, with three undefeated schools coming into this weekend and then everybody else. Oklahoma was rightfully tabbed as the fourth best team in the country, so the way they got blown out silenced everyone looking for schools five through eight, including one of the "little guys" in the Group of Five, to get a chance at the brass ring. Rightfully so. The four team playoff is fine how it is.
2. Jordan Thomas
Thomas came into the season as the most intriguing of the many tight ends in that position group, but injuries in training camp sidelined him (much to the frustration of Bill O'Brien), and since his return from injured reserve, he's caught one pass for eight yards, has shown very little improvement in blocking, and was on the inactive list as recently as Week 16. With Kahale Warring back in the mix next season, Thomas will need to come into camp more focused and ready to go in order to keep his spot on this team, especially if the Texans bring back veteran Darren Fells.
1. New England Patriots
Man, maybe the Texans win over the Patriots in Week 13 was a little phony, considering how the Patriots finished the 2019 season. They came into that game 10-1, lost to the Texans, and then proceeded to go 2-2 down the stretch, including a 27-24 home loss to the mediocre Miami Dolphins yesterday that will force the Patriots to play a wild card round game for the first time since 2009. They will play the Tennessee Titans, for whom I will back blindly and take the points next weekend.